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Montana State Flag Montana

Montana State Government

SESS. I CH. 95. 1864
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STATEHOOD: The United States acquired most of what is now Montana as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The northwestern section of the state was gained in a treaty with Britain in 1846. At various times, parts of Montana were parts of the territories of Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

In 1862, prospectors found gold in Grasshopper Creek in the area now known as southwestern Montana. At the time, Montana was part of Idaho territory. Other gold strikes followed, and wild mining camps grew around the gold fields. These camps included Bannack, Diamond City, and Virginia City. During the boom years, gold dust was the most prominent form of money. Also, during this period, there was almost no effective law enforcement in the mining camps. Sidney Edgerton, a former U.S. Representative from Ohio, was appointed United States judge for the Territory of Idaho in 1863. He saw a need for better government of the wild mining camps.

In 1864, he was persuaded to return to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress to create a Montana Territory separate from Idaho. Edgerton had friends on Capitol Hill from his days as an Ohio Congressman and he agreed to the task. Of course he took about $2,000 in Montana gold nuggets with him to Washington to impress his friends with the mineral wealth in the new territory. On May 26, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed an act creating the Montana Territory. Sidney Edgerton was appointed as the first Territorial Governor.

1883 Bird's Eye Drawing of Helena
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In order to become a state, Montana had to prepare and its citizens had to approve a written constitution that would have to be accepted by the U.S. Congress. The constitution would contain the basic laws of the state, the responsibilities of its elected officials, and the rights of citizens of Montana. Three constitutions were prepared, from 1866-1889, by Montana officials before statehood was achieved.

Finally, in 1889, the U.S. Congress passed the Enabling Act that allowed Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota to become states. On November 8, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation announcing admission of Montana into Union as the 41st state

Constitution graphic
STATE CONSTITUTION:A constitution sets out the rules by which we play the game of government. Like the rules for any other game, it limits the moves available to players. It describes how the various players interact with each other, and who has more power in various situations.

In 1866, Acting Territorial Governor Thomas Francis Meagher, called Montana's first constitutional convention. Beginning in the cold of December, in a dark dirt-roofed cabin in Bannack City, legislators spent 60 days putting together Montana's first constitution. The story goes that this document was lost on the way to the printer in St. Louis....

It wasn't until 1884 that another attempt was made. This time, the convention was held in Helena. From January 14 through February 9, lawmakers hammered out a new constitution. Voters approved it on November 4, 1884. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress, immersed in political conflict and worried about the balance of power in the legislature, virtually ignored Montana's new petitions for statehood.

The political atmosphere in Washington changed, however, and in 1889, Montana refurbished the 1884 constitution and put it to a vote. Montanans approved it by an overwhelming majority on October 1, 1889. This time, Congress passed an enabling act allowing Montana to become a state.

Recognizing that the 1889 constitution had not aged well, Montanans called for a Constitutional Convention in 1972. The 1972 constitution, in effect today, is one of the nation’s most progressive documents. It advocates single-member legislative districts, open-meeting requirements, and the care and protection of the environment.

PREAMBLE:We the people of Montana grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.


Gold and Silver
STATE MOTTO:Like other state mottoes, Montana's Spanish Oro y Plata was conceived as the Montanans were deciding on an official seal for the new Montana Territory. In 1865, shortly after Montana had gained territorial status, a committee, chaired by Mr. Francis R. Thompson, got together to determine an appropriate design for the new seal. The committee agreed that the seal should incorporate certain essential elements of Montana's economy and its future.

As the committee discussed the new seal the question of a territorial motto was introduced. Based on the mineral wealth that Montana had produced since 1862, members favored "Gold and Silver" as a meaningful motto for Montana Territory. Someone thought the motto would have a nice ring in Spanish and, again, there was agreement. Seal design and motto were presented to the Legislature on February 4, 1865. At this time there was a suggestion that "El Dorado," meaning "the place of gold," might be more appropriate than simply "Gold and Silver." But both houses approved the seal with the motto Oro y Plata and Territorial Governor Sidney Edgerton signed the bill into law on February 9, 1865.

The seal has been modified, to some degree, over the years, but the motto has remained: Oro y Plata.

The Seal of the State of Montana
STATE GOVERNMENT:As in the case of the federal government, Montana's state government is organized into three branches - legislative, executive, and judicial. The state government is a product of three documents: the United States Constitution, the Montana State Constitution, and laws of the state. The state of Montana voted, in 1992, to impose term limits on their elected representatives. Proponents of the idea argued that term limits would take government out of the hands of “career politicians” and encourage more citizens to run for office. Montana term limits state that certain officials may not seek re-election if they have held an office for eight years in any 16-year period. An official can still be re-elected by write-in vote, even after serving 8 years in a 16-year period.

The Governor is the top official in the Executive Branch of Montana State government. The 1992 Constitutional initiative enforces term limits for the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State, the State Auditor, the Attorney General, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Montana Legislature is composed of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The 1992 Constitutional initiative enforces term limits for state representatives and state senators.

The highest court of appeals in Montana is the state Supreme Court, which consists of one chief justice and six associate justices--each elected to eight-year terms. The trial courts for major civil and criminal cases are the state's 20 district courts. These jurisdictions are presided over from one to four judges, each elected to a six-year term. Municipal courts, police courts, and justice-of-the-peace courts handle less serious cases.


Montana Governor Steve Bullock
Governor Stephen Clark "Steve" Bullock
Courtesy of the
State of Montana
GOVERNOR:Stephen Clark "Steve" Bullock (Democrat)
FIRST LADY:Lisa Downs Bullock


Montana state capitol
Montana State Capitol Building
Date Erected:1899-1902
  • Iowa architects, Charles E. Bell and John H. Kent relocated to Helena to meet the legislature’s demand that the capitol architect be a state resident.
  • Completed in 1902, the building cost about $485,000 furnished.
  • Faced with Montana sandstone, the Capitol was constructed in the Greek neoclassic style.
  • The dome, covered with copper, rises 165 feet and is topped with a bronze statue of Lady Liberty.
  • In 1912, two wings, faced with Montana granite, were added at a cost of $500,000.

[ PURCHASE Montana's State Capitol: The People's Pride ]

STATE REPRESENTATION:The Montana Legislature is composed of two parts, called houses, like the United States Congress. The two parts are the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Legislature is referred to as a bicameral body because it is made up of two houses. The Latin roots of the word bicameral, "bi" and "cameral," mean two chambers or rooms. The Legislature is responsible for making the laws in Montana and for raising and distributing the money necessary to run the state government. As established by the 1972 Montana Constitution, sessions take place every odd-numbered year and last for a maximum of 90 legislative days.


STATE REPRESENTATIVES:Representatives in Montana each represent people in a specific area of the state. These areas are called house districts. There are currently 100 men and women representing 100 house districts in the Montana House of Representatives. 53 representatives are Republicans and 47 are Democrats. Each representative serves for a period of two years in the House of Representatives, after which he or she must run for re-election. Representatives may not run for re-election if they have served for eight years in any 16-year period. Representative may exceed these limits if elected by write-in vote.


STATE SENATORS:Senators in Montana each represent people in a specific area of the state. These areas are called senate districts. There are currently 50 men and women representing 50 senate districts in the Montana Senate. 29 representatives are Republicans and 21 are Democrats. Each senator serves for a period of four years in the Senate, after which he or she must run for re-election. Senators may not run for re-election if they have served for eight years in any 16-year period. Senators may exceed these limits if elected by write-in vote. Half of the Senate membership comes up for re-election every two years.


Introduced bill
LEGISLATIVE PROCESS:The legislative branch of government is responsible for making and maintaining laws within their jurisdiction. United States representatives and senators, federal legislators, are responsible for laws at the national level and state legislators are responsible for laws at the state level. A law begins as an idea that is introduced in the Montana Legislature as a bill by one or more legislators. The bill then goes through the legislative process to become a law. During this process the bill may be changed. Not all bills become law.


CURRENT LEGISLATION:When the legislature is meeting, it is said to be "in session." Legislative sessions occur every odd-numbered year, beginning at noon on the first Monday in January, with the exception that if the first Monday is January 1, the Legislature then begins on the first Wednesday of January. The length of a regular session is 90 legislative days. Sessions may be extended if required to complete the work of the Legislature. In addition, under unusual circumstances, the Legislature may be called into Special Session by the Governor to deal with a specific problem. The following link will allow you to look at bills that are currently going through the legislative process.


STATUTES:The following link will allow you to look at Montana's current laws.


COUNTIES:The United States Constitution does not define local government. Instead, this function is left up to the states.

Counties are a local unit of government within a state. All but two of the states are divided into counties. Alaska is divided into boroughs and census districts and Louisiana is divided into parishes where governing responsibilities are similar to counties.

Traditionally, counties performed tasks mandated by the state, such as property assessment, property and vital statistic record keeping, maintenance of rural roads, administration of local election and judicial functions, and support of the poor. Today, counties may be responsible for these functions, more or less, but the responsibilities of county governments vary from state to state.

  • Montana is divided into 56 counties
  • The largest county in Montana is Beaverhead County at 5,543 square miles.
  • The smallest county in Montana is Butte-Silver Bow County at 718 square miles.
  • The greatest number of people, 129,352, live in Yellowstone County (2000 Census).
  • The least populated county is Petroleum County with 493 residents (2000 Census)
United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
United States Capitol Building
Washington, DC
U.S. CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION: The legislative branch of the United States government makes laws for our nation and raises and distributes money to run the United States government. The most evident part of the legislative branch is the United States Congress. Congress is divided into two parts, called houses. The two parts are the Senate and the House of Representatives. Congress is referred to as a bicameral body because it is made up of two houses. The Latin roots of the word bicameral, "bi" and "cameral," mean two chambers or rooms. Members of the Senate are called Senators and members of the House of Representatives are called Representatives. Senators and representatives serving in these two bodies are sometimes referred to as congressmen, or women, and sometimes as legislators because their business is to legislate or make laws. The role of the legislative branch is defined in the United States Constitution.


Each state elects people to represent them in the United States Congress in Washington, DC. The citizens of each state elect two senators to represent them in the Senate. They also elect representatives to represent them in the House of Representatives. The number of representatives each state sends to the House of Representatives is not a specific number like the Senate, but is based on the population of the state. The people, that are elected to represent the state's citizens in the United States Congress, are referred to as the congressional delegation.

There are 100 senators in the U.S. Senate. Each is elected to a term, in the Senate, of six years. There are 435 representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives. Each is elected to a term, in the "House," of two years.

The citizens of Montana elect two people, like every other state, to represent them in the Senate and one person, based on Montana's population, to represent them in the House of Representatives.

U.S. Senate (2):

U.S. House of Representatives (1):


Source: State of Montana Web Site, (, April 24, 2004
Source: Office of the Governor of Montana, (, January 28, 2005
Source: Montana Legislature, (, April 24, 2004
Source: Montana Historical Society, (, April 24, 2004
Source: National Association of Counties, (, April 24, 2004
Source: National Governor's Association, (, April 24, 2004

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